As the largest organ, the horse’s skin and coat is designed to protect all other organs and body systems within. The skin is a matrix of multiple layers of cells, containing sweat glands, blood vessels, nerve endings, touch receptors, pores, hair and other structures. The skin has to withstand viral, bacterial, parasitic and fungal intrusions, bites, stings, wounds, bruising and chemical applications. Most of these promote uncomfortable, itchy skin in the horse.

There are three words which should spring to mind when considering the cause of an itchy horse; parasites, allergies and infections. Most ailments resulting in the desire to rub and scratch are due to problems caused by small, wriggling creatures, even smaller irritating organisms, or contact with substances to which the animal is allergic.

Sweetitch itchy horse rubbing

Neem-based products to help itchy horses and improve skin and coat health

Mites, lice, ringworm and midges. Mites are microscopic and quite hard to diagnose under the microscope. They occur commonly in heavily feathered horses/ponies. Horses with itchy legs normally stamp their feet, scratch their legs with the opposite limb, or bite at their legs. Scratching and biting can cause secondary bacterial infections which are often mistaken for mud fever. Balding of the mane and tail including around the head and face could be caused by bird mite. Swallows and sparrows nesting in the stable can transmit these mites onto the horse causing itching that may be mistaken for sweet-itch. Neem oil can combat these issues.

As with humans, skin allergies in horses are hugely varied. A common scenario might be finding your horse covered in small bumps but seemingly unbothered by them. No action is taken and, in a few hours, the bumps subside and are soon forgotten – although possibly a new bottle of shampoo is thrown away! It’s not always so simple. In some horses, allergic reactions are a chronic, frustrating and potentially debilitating part of life. They occur when, for reasons that are not fully understood, a horse’s immune system becomes hypersensitized to substances called allergens, which ordinarily do no harm. When this happens, the immune reaction runs out of control. An overabundance of antibodies is produced, which, in turn, stimulate the release of a flood of prostaglandins, histamines and other substances. An allergic reaction in the skin, called atopic dermatitis, usually causes itching (pruritus) and/or re-current hives (urticaria). Other possible signs include patchy hair loss, bumps and crusting.

Pro-Equine’s skin and coat range of topical products uses a range of natural plant based ingredients.        Aloe vera has long since been recognized to help in the healing process of wound care and to soothe irritated skin. Researchers have identified a glycoprotein in it that promotes cell growth. When combined with aloe’s gel-like binding quality, an environment conducive to growth and healing is created. The effect is significant acceleration of wound healing and scar reduction. Applied to problem skin areas Aloe vera can help with inflammation and cool itchy distressed skin tissue. Aloe should always be at hand to soothe sunburn mostly found on delicate pink skin of a horse’s nostrils and ears. Application of Pro-Equine’s Lavender Sunblock can prevent sunburn occurring.

Arnica is derived from a yellow mountain daisy that grows in Europe also known as leopard’s bane. Arnica has traditionally been used to treat bruising. It reputedly increases circulation by stimulating white blood cell activity, thereby decreasing the amount of healing time and reducing inflammation. Aloe and Arnica gel can be used for muscle and tendon trauma and should be applied after an event to promote speedy recovery of damaged capillaries and haematoma dispersion. Often it is difficult to see a bruise on a horse’s body due to the horse’s coat. More frequently, you can detect a bruise by heat radiating from the area and a reaction when you touch it. Bruises found in the hoof sole are easier to notice due to lameness, heat and colouring.

Sarcoids are skin tumours which vary enormously in size and shape and how much of a problem they are. Sarcoids are more prevalent on geldings and are located mostly on the chest, under belly, sheath, groin, around the eyes and nostrils. There are many types of sarcoids including occult, verrucous, nodular, fibroblastic, malevolent. There is no magical cure for sarcoids in horses but Aloe Vera, Manuka and Neem have all been reported to help maintain a healthier environment, to minimise sarcoids and to protect from infection and fly irritation.

Neem oil contains vitamin E and many essential amino acids which help restore moisture and elasticity to the skin and coat. It can therefore be used on dry and sensitive skin and for wound care. The collagen properties of neem oil promote healthy, new skin and reduce scar tissue. Neem also encourages healthy hair re-growth, very important for horse owners. Neem oil has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Neem oil has been scientifically tested for use against midges. The University of Edinburgh1 evaluated Neem oil for “repellent and anti-feedant activity” against the biting midge Culicoides impunctatus and concluded that blood-feeding by the midge was “significantly reduced by topical applications of Neem oil”.

Cold pressed Neem oil fly repellent insecticide

Cold-pressed Neem oil with high Azadirachtin content

For Uses of Neem Oil see FAQ’s 

1Toward development of neem-based repellents against the Scottish Highland biting midge Culicoides impunctatus. Blackwell A, Evans KA, Strang RH, Cole M. Med Vet Entomol  2004 Dec;18(4):449-52.

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